THE 1984 WHITE TIGER CUBS THEFT CASE

Historical quotations are credited and are in the public domain. Original text is licensed under the GFDL. I am grateful to Paul McCarthy and Jerry Blackman for researching and providing extensive material, information and corrections on white tigers and for genealogies.

White Tiger Genealogies from Mohan to Modern Day
1500 to 1899 - Historical Accounts of White Tigers
1800s - Current Day Stripeless White Tigers
1900 to 1950s - Historical Accounts of White Tigers
1950s to 1970s - The White Tigers of Rewa & Orissa
1970s - Alleged White Amur Tigers, Susie & White Tigers of Unknown Lineages
White Tigers in Captivity Today
The 1984 White Tiger Cubs Theft Case
Current Day - Spread Of White Tigers In Zoos - Too Many To Count
Reintroducing White Tigers Into The Wild?
White Tiger Studbook and Bibliography

THE 1984 WHITE TIGER CUBS THEFT CASE

In 1984, Dr. Dan Laughlin, the vet for Brookfield Zoo, stole 5 white tiger cubs from the Ringling Circus. They were the property of John F. Cuneo Jr. and the Hawthorn Circus Corp. of Grayslake, Illinois. Laughlin tried to ship them to Ray Long’s Exotic Feline Survival Association in Louisiana under a false name and in a box labelled “Angora Cat.” Three cubs were recovered, but 2 died. The trial was in 1984 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Laughlin went to prison and then to a halfway house. He now works for the much-criticised Big Cat Rescue and authored the very dubious “White Tiger Fraud.” His conviction was reported in the Los Angeles Times, 22nd December 22, 1985: Pair Get Year in Prison in Theft of White Tigers. BATON ROUGE, La. — Dr. Daniel Laughlin, a veterinarian from Riverside, Ill., and Raymond Long, owner of a wildlife refuge in Springfield, La., were sentenced to a year in prison in the theft of five white tiger cubs from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Both have been ordered to make restitution of $55,000 per cub for two cubs that died. They also must serve six months in a halfway house, in addition to their prison terms.”

The Salina Journal (Salina, Kansas), 8th November, 1985, the Del Rio News Herald (Del Rio, Texas), 5th October, 1985 and numerous other papers carried a report about Ray Long, the recipient of the stolen cubs who ran the Exotic Feline Survival Association, one America’s many counterfeit sanctuaries (many are thinly disguised private menageries or roadside zoos). Not all are impressed by [Long’s] goals. A federal grand jury in Baton Rouge recently accused him and Dr. Daniel C. Laughlin of Riverside, Ill., of concealing five newborn white tiger cubs stolen from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in November 1984. Long denies the charges, but his lawyer doesn’t want him to talk about it publicly. [. . .] But there’s still that thing about the stolen white tigers. Prodded about the incident, Long gives his side of the story. He says the cubs arrived at the New Orleans International Airport addressed to him with no indication of where they came from. He took them in, called his lawyer and notified federal authorities, he says. One died, probably because it was too young to be shipped, Long says. He kept the other four until they were confiscated. White cubs are rare and worth a lot of money. But, he says, he couldn’t dispose of them illegally if he wanted to because they are so rare and so noticeable. ‘To sell one of these . . . without anyone knowing about it would be impossible.’ Besides, he says, he’s not in the business of selling animals for profit. ‘We’ve never sold one.’ Barring any unforeseen legal deals in Baton Rouge, a federal jury will decide whether Ray Long is telling the truth. No trial date has been set.” (Version from the Salina Journal)

The case is reported at United States of America, Plaintiff-appellee, v. Daniel C. Laughlin, Defendant-appellant, 804 F.2d 1336 (5th Cir. 1986) on 14th November, 1986. Following a three day bench trial, presided over by District Judge Frank Polozola, Dr. Daniel G. Laughlin was convicted of transporting stolen property across state lines and of aiding and abetting the receipt of stolen property shipped in interstate commerce. Dr. Laughlin appealed, asserting that the Government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the white tiger cubs he stole had a market value of $5,000; that being the value that met statutory jurisdictional requisites for the charges (there was no doubt about the theft, only about the value). Here are some excerpts.

Dr. Laughlin was the chief veterinarian for the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus. During the first week of August 1984, while the circus was on tour in Oregon and Washington, two female tigers owned by John Cuneo each gave birth to a litter of white tiger cubs. “Snowy," a white tiger, gave birth to three white cubs, one of which died shortly after birth. "Targa," a gold tiger, also gave birth to three white cubs, all of which initially survived. Targa and Snowy were leased by Cuneo to perform as artists in a nine white- and six gold-tiger act at the greatest show on earth.

[Note: Whose cubs? The court case refers to Targa (Kairi) and Snowy. They were born the first week in August 1984 and stolen in November 1984 (before 6th November). When the 3 surviving cubs were reclaimed there was probably no way to tell which litters they came from. Targa (Kairi) & Ari – there is no 1984 litter listed for Targa/Kairi, but the court case says she produced 3 white cubs on the first week in August. Tony & Snowy produced a litter of 3 white cubs on 4th August 1984, but the court case says one of her cubs died shortly after birth. It looks as though the 3 surviving stolen cubs were listed as offspring of Tony & Snowy.]

Dr. Laughlin secreted the five, presumably distraught cubs from their mothers, and shipped them to one Raymond Nicholas Long of the Exotic Feline Survival Association in Springfield, Louisiana. Unlike a ringmaster proudly presenting the next act, Dr. Laughlin - using the alias "Dr. Johnson" - shipped the cubs on a midnight flight from Seattle to New Orleans in an airline kennel mendaciously marked "one Angora cat." Initially, Dr. Laughlin denied that he had taken the cubs and claimed that they had either been lost or killed by their mothers - a not infrequent practice among tigers. But in November, Dr. Laughlin admitted in a self-serving letter to Cuneo, who had been frantically searching for the wayward animals, that he had taken the cubs. Dr. Laughlin claimed that he had sent the cubs to Long for health reasons. On November 6, 1984, FBI agents found three live cubs and two dead cubs - which had been preserved in a freezer - at Long's facility, and on November 28, Cuneo reclaimed the survivors.

Considerable evidence was adduced at trial as to the market value of white tigers. Cuneo's cats all derive from a gold sire, "Tony" the tiger [. . .] the distinguished progenitor of a line of white tigers at the Cincinnati Zoo that consistently fetch prices in the open market ranging from $45,000 to $60,000 per cat. Further, although Cuneo's tigers have genetically diverged from the line of white tigers bred at the Cincinnati Zoo, Edward Maruska (the Zoo Director) testified that he would gladly pay $5,000 for any one of Cuneo's cats. Maruska also testified, as the director of the largest breeding and selling program of white tigers in the world, that he had sold one-day-old cubs and three-month-old cubs for the same prices as adults. Cuneo testified that the market value for white tigers, based on "innumerable" offers he received and subsequently collected in his files for tax purposes, is far greater than $5,000 per cub. According to both Maruska and Cuneo, there is no difference in the market price of one-day-old cubs and young adults, because of the great surplus in demand for white tigers. Finally, although Cuneo never sells his white tigers, he leases them to perform with various circuses. His unrebutted testimony shows that he garners a net rental income of approximately $16,000 per white tiger per year.

Dr. Laughlin presented expert testimony purporting to show that the Cuneo cats had diverged in genotype significantly and to their detriment from the Cincinnati cats, despite their common ancestor, Tony. These experts testified that Cuneo's cats were very inbred, subject to congenital spinal deformities, stabismus, and immuno-deficiency syndrome (tiger-AIDS). The experts further testified that due to outcrosses, the Cincinnati gene pool resulted in much "thriftier" cubs. [Footnote 5: Our study of the genealogical history of the two lines leads us to conclude that the genotypes are roughly comparable. Maruska testified to the equivalence in genotype, phenotype, and market value of the Cuneo and Cincinnati cats.] In establishing restitution, by contrast, the judge must take into account that three of the white tiger cubs have been returned to Cuneo. Thus, market value is not the only issue. Further, the court must consider the fact that Cuneo is not able to ascertain from which of the two litters the remaining three tigers came, causing a diminution in their breeding value since proper pedigree records cannot be kept for any progeny the remaining cubs might produce. These issues were irrelevant to the criminal trial, and thus a restitution determination was properly put off until a relevant proceeding.

That’s not the end of Laughlin’s involvement with white tigers though. Carole Baskin, of the infamous Big Cat Rescue (formerly Wildlife on Easy Street, one of the USA’s many big cat menageries that masquerade as sanctuaries), allows Laughlin to use her web site to expound his accusations and inaccuracies about the current population of white tigers. On that website he made the now oft-repeated, and wholly false, claims that 80% of white tiger offspring die due to inbreeding. A 20% survival rate is a mathematical impossibility considering the number of white tigers alive today, and it is not borne out by studbook data. Big Cat Rescue use the case of a single animal, Kenny, a disfigured white tiger at Turpentine Creek Sanctuary to support claims that all white tigers are unhealthily inbred. Today, most white tigers have good genetic diversity because of frequent outcrossing to unrelated, or distantly related, orange tigers.

In “The White Tiger Fraud,” Laughlin claims that about twenty-five years previously he fully researched and documented the accurate genealogy and origin of the white tiger in the U.S.A. and that there are 2 distinct bloodlines. The actual research was done by Rhys Walkley. One bloodline (Laughlin claims) was the Bengal tiger bloodline which originated in India and entered the U.S. via a breeding loan to the National Zoo. One of the Indian origin tigers carried the recessive gene for the white colour and was the mother of the second litter of white tigers born at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1976. He claims that he original litter of white tigers born at Cincinnati in 1974 and all subsequent Indian origin bloodline white tigers soon died out in the U.S. without leaving any pure Indian origin Bengal white tigers in the U.S. Imported white tigress Mohini and orange-coloured white gene carrier Samson were founders of the USA white tigers, and this later merged with the second bloodline. He claimed to have unpublished research definitively showing the true origin of the white tiger in the U.S., in a second and separate bloodline that occurred spontaneously in two separate private collections in the U.S.. Siblings born to a pure Siberian male (Kubla) and a Bengal female (Susie, white gene carrier) were bred together at a small zoo in South Dakota, producing 12 live cubs. Two cubs (male & female) were sold to a private individual, while a litter of 5 cubs were sold to another private individual. Both owners inbred their tigers and white cubs of mixed Amur/Bengal ancestry were spontaneously born. This “unpublished” information was there for all who cared to read the ISIS sheets and studbooks. It’s true that there was inbreeding in those days to bolster the white tiger population as they were in great demand.

There are 6 litters registered to Susie and Kubla. None contained 5 cubs - I believe the "litte of 5" referred to the July 1966 litter containing 3 females and a male named either Saber I or Prince, perhaps Laughlin counted these as 2 cubs. Susie and Kubla had 14 documented offspring. A brother-sister pair (Raja, formerly Tony, and Sheba) went to von Uhl and were extensively bred to produce white offspring. Another brother-sister pair (Saber I/Prince and Sheba III) went to Hawthorn Circus were bred together to produce white cubs.

Laughlin wrote “One of the individuals who owned the litter of five brothers and sisters representing the American crossbred white tiger bloodline has continued to inbreed his tigers for over the past twenty-five years even though his neonate mortality rate has often exceeded eighty per cent and his tigers are severely defective and unfit.” That may be true of a single individual owner with very poor breeding practices, but reputable menageries crossed their white tigers to unrelated orange tigers (often of different subspecies) and their mortality rate was around 30%, the same as in captive-bred orange tigers at the time. Laughlin then claims “The only conceivable legitimate reason for exhibiting a white tiger would be for educational purposes to clearly and unequivocally illustrate to the public the process of natural selection and how, when a deleterious recessive genetic mutation randomly occurs that is disadvantageous for the survival of the animal, such as white color in a tropical jungle environment, the animal does not survive to pass on that genetic mutation or disadvantageous characteristic to its offspring. This was the normal course of natural selection and evolution of the tiger until a young white tiger male was captured in 1951 [. . .]” In fact white tigers thrived and bred successfully in India (especially Assam) until gun-toting European hunters slaughtered the tiger population (one hunter bagging around 200 tigers in a couple of years). White tigers were highly valued as trophies. Because most prey animals do not see in glorious technicolour, the black-and-white coat was not a disadvantage in jungle settings. Laughlin does not tell the truth about the viability of the white gene in the wild; white tigers had been around since the 1500s.

“To produce white tigers or any other phenotypic curiosity, directors of zoos and other facilities must continuously inbreed father to daughter and father to granddaughter and so on.” This is false. They need only breed heterozygous animals together i.e. gene carriers. These are related only very distantly, perhaps sharing only a few percent of genes because they have been outcrossed to completely unrelated tigers from the wild over many generations. Having been convicted of white tiger theft himself, Laughlin seemed determined to discredit the white tigers themselves.

USEFUL GENETIC TERMS

INBREEDING DEPRESSION & OTHER GENETIC ANOMALIES IN TIGERS

COLOUR MORPHS & POSSIBLE GENE COMBINATIONS IN WHITE TIGERS

Textual content is licensed under the GFDL.

FOOTNOTE

Most white tiger websites have a pro- or anti-agenda and variously claim to give “facts,” “truths” or debunk “myths.” There is too much misinformation too many hidden agendas. I stick to facts and deductions based on facts. Some information is documented, some is from personal correspondence with zoos, and some is from the recollections or personal notes of people involved with circus or zoo tigers. Sometimes personal recollection is the only information left to us because the organisations that bred or traded the tigers have closed and their records were destroyed. Even the different editions of tiger studbooks are inconsistent.

Information originating from my pages, which are frequently updated, has been widely copied on those other sites. Some users of my information have later tried to claim I copied their work.

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